Blast to the Past: Vintage Ads That Changed the Industry

Most people don’t think about how ads shape our lives, but these six vintage ads have become ingrained in our cultural consciousness.

If you’re like most people, you don’t remember most of the ads you see. Yet, you’re probably also aware that now and then, an ad campaign comes along that seems to slide effortlessly into the cultural landscape.

Some vintage ads become so much a part of a product’s brand that they’re remembered for decades after they’re retired. The following six ads are more than just old advertisements — they’re industry icons that set the bar for excellence in advertising.

Avis – “We try harder”

Image Courtesy of Marketing Week

It’s human nature to love an underdog, and the “we try harder” ad had all of America rooting for Avis. However, consumers also love winners. So, top ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach created a campaign designed to show Avis as its second-place status, turning it into a positive rather than a negative. After 50 years, the “we try harder” tagline was dropped from Avis’ ads in 2012, but it still resonates with consumers.

Coca-cola – “The pause that refreshes”

“The pause that refreshes” is another example of an ad slogan with substantial staying power. First appearing during the 1920s, this one will reach the century mark in just a few years. When the company itself was still young, the country was on the cusp of The Great Depression. Hence, Coca Cola needed a way to shine above the other soft drinks on the market. St. Louis ad agency D’Arcy Co. made history with the slogan, and it’s associated with the product to this day.

De Beers – “A diamond is forever”

This slogan has been recognized as a major change agent in the diamond industry. During The Great Depression, Diamond sales had been low and were stagnant even after the economy bounced back. Diamonds were seen primarily as a one-time purchase specific to engagement rings, and diamond giant DeBeers company wanted to expand their market. As a result, they hired Philadelphia ad agency N.W. Ayers & Son, where copywriter Mary Frances Gerety developed the “a diamond is forever” campaign in 1948. The slogan is still in use today.

Jordan Motor Car Co. – “Somewhere west of Laramie”

The Jordan Motor Car Company’s iconic ad made its debut in American living rooms in 1923 via the Saturday Evening Post. Tugging at the heartstrings of anyone who’s ever daydreamed about hitting the road for the American West, the ad also threw in a promise of adventure for good measure. The ad was unusual for its time because it didn’t speak of engine size or cost — it sold a feeling instead. Another way it broke with tradition was that it was written by company founder Edward S. Jordan.

Morton Salt – “When it rains it pours”

“When it rains it pours” is another memorable ad slogan with its roots at the beginning of the last century in 1914. The slogan was developed to show that Morton Salts did not clump together during rainy seasons like other salt products. The campaign was created by Philadelphia ad agency NW Ayer & Son, and today’s consumers immediately associate the slogan with the salt.

Hathaway Shirts – “The man in the Hathaway shirt”

Storytelling is one of today’s biggest trends in advertising, but it’s not a new technique. “The man in the Hathaway shirt” campaign used open-ended mystery to double sales of Hathaway shirts in just five years. Developed by ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in the early 1950s, the campaign depicting a man with an eye patch captured America’s collective imagination. The mysterious character of the man increased the shirts’ desirability and increased their sales overall.

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